Violin BW 2 for web

The following was inspired by true events.


“Jack, we’ve been through this. Your leg is dying. If we don’t amputate, it could kill you.”

“I want to keep my leg.”

“At the risk of dying?”

“Of course not. Cut the leg off. But I want to keep it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What’s so hard to understand? When you cut off the leg, instead of throwing it in the trash, put it on ice.”

“We don’t just throw it in the trash. We have a medical incinerator.”

“I want to take my leg home.”


“It’s my leg. Maybe I’ll make it into a lamp.”

“Just sign the papers. You can’t take your leg home.”

“Maybe I want to bury it. Could I take it home and bury it?”

Dr. Irving leaned back in his chair and let out a long, slow breath. “It’s really not practical. How would you even dig a hole?”

“But could I do it? Is it legal?”

“There’s paperwork. It has to be approved by Administration. They won’t likely grant your request, given your circumstances.”

“My circumstances.”

“You know.”

“I’m not crazy, Stuart. I checked myself in to get some rest.”

Dr. Irving forced a smile. There was no point in arguing. He had learned that years ago. When they were both boys.

“Where would you bury it?”

Jack thought for a moment. “I could bury it next to Monkey.”

“Monkey died?”

“Two years ago. I told you. You never listen to me.”

“I’m sorry. I forgot. I forget a lot of things anymore.”

“Monkey’s not dead. I was just testing you.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I’ll bury her next to Zsa Zsa.”

“I know Zsa Zsa’s dead. I went to the funeral.” Dr. Irving shook his head. “Who has a funeral for a cat?”

“Lot’s of people do. Don’t be so insensitive.”

“So you want to bury your leg in your pet cemetery?”

Jack didn’t answer. Dr. Irving took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“Does your head hurt?” Jack asked.

“No. Just tired. I don’t sleep much these days.”

“They have meds for that, you know. New ones. I got to try a couple at the hospital. The other hospital. Bateman.”

“I just need some time off. I’m going to the beach next month.”

“The beach. I never understood that. We’re going to the beach! We’re going to the beach! All that sand. The humidity. No, thank you.”

“I like it. Nothing like sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee watching the sun rise.”

“Are the kids going?”

“No. Just me. I haven’t even told them. I’m afraid they’ll come down.”

“They worry about you.”

“I know.”

“You’re not used to being alone, and yet you’re going to the beach to be by yourself.”

“So now you’re my shrink?”

“It hasn’t even been a year.”


“Murrell’s Inlet?”

“No. Outer Banks.”


“Katie loved Murrell’s Inlet. I can’t go there. I just can’t.”

Jack nodded. They sat in silence for a moment.

“Are you going to give me my leg?”

“It’s a horrible idea.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“I know.”

Jack pushed himself up in the wheelchair and lifted his leg at the knee and crossed it over his other leg. The good leg. He rubbed his knee under the hospital gown. “They say there will be phantom pain. Like the leg is still there.”

“That’s what they say.”

“I hear voices.”

“Uh huh.” Stuart turned to his computer and began typing. The office was small and sparse, not so much as a family photo on the desk. It wasn’t his primary office, just a space in the hospital to access records and process patients.

“I got a new violin,” Jack said.

“I didn’t know you were still playing.”

“I sat on my old one. Just flattened it.”

“So you got a new one?”

“I had that violin since junior high.”

Stuart turned and faced Jack. “The same one?”

“I couldn’t fix it this time.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jack looked down at his leg, black and brown and blue and scaly and crusty.

“Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had you not come along that day. They would have certainly finished the job on the violin, and then started in on me. Maybe I just needed a good beating. Maybe that would have toughened me up.”

“Nobody needs a beating.”

“I went to Bateman for the first time after that. I was fourteen.”

Dr. Irving went back to typing. “I didn’t know that.”

“My first trip to crazy.”

“Stop it, Jack.”

“I know. It’s just an illness. Like the flu or diabetes or a rotting leg. But there is a difference.”

“There shouldn’t be.”

“So you say.” Jack touched the dead skin, checking for pain. He felt nothing. “My poor, sorrowful leg. It’s dying. You’re going to cut it off, and you’re either going to burn, or I’m going to bury it, or maybe I’ll just keep it my deep-freeze for a while. Doesn’t really matter. It’s just an appendage. Notice how I refer to it? It. Third party. Objective.”

“You can’t keep it in your freezer.”

“But up here,” Jack said as he tapped his forehead, “that’s me. My mind. My thoughts. My fears. My hopes. Me. Not it. It’s so hard to be objective and say that I just need medicine or therapy or electricity. I had that once, you know.”

“Electroconvulsive therapy can be effective, and overall, I think your treatments have served you well. You’re a bit of an odd-ball, but you’re not crazy. And if you need to drop by Bateman every now and then to get it all sorted out, so be it. You go to Bateman, I go to the beach.”

Jack laughed. “I think you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“You’re probably right.”

“Even so,” Jack said.

“Even so, what?”

“My leg is part of me, too.” He uncrossed his leg. He wheeled to the window that overlooked the parking lot. “Nice view.”

“Even so, what?”

“I don’t have much. No family. Just Zsa Zsa, now. I’ve had two real friends in my life. You and my violin. Now it’s gone. Well, it’s not gone, just a pile of broken wood and strings. My new one is nice, but it has no history with me. And now my body is leaving me, piece by piece.”

“Just your lower leg. Every other body part is fine.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“Ok, Jack.”


“Yeah. I’ll do the paperwork for your leg.”

“You think the hospital will approve it?”

“They will. And if they don’t, we’ll figure something out.”

“Thank you, Stuart.”

“Two conditions, though. First, we’re going to keep it here until you’re discharged. Then the day you go home, I’m coming over to your house and I’m going to bury your leg.”

“That sounds so odd when you say it out loud, Doctor. Even a little nutty. What’s the second condition?”

“You’re coming to the beach with me.”

Jack turned from the window and looked at his doctor, his old friend. Stuart was still pecking on the computer. He wouldn’t look back. It wouldn’t be proper. Not for friends like Jack and Stuart.

“Go on back to your room. I’ve got to make my rounds. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you, Stuart.”

Jack wheeled himself to the door and started down the hall.

“The beach,” he said in a whisper. “I’m going to the beach.”

copyright 2016, joseph e bird